| | Drop-In Disaster: Making Lemonade

Author / John

I recently had one of the worst training experiences of my life.  I know what you’re going to say; “Whoa there, drama queen. Take it easy.”  But I am serious as a heart attack.  The exact heart attack I nearly had when I dropped in at a gym last weekend.  Let me preface this by saying that I have had the good fortune to travel all around the globe and visit all kinds of training facilities.  Most of those experiences have been overwhelmingly positive which make my recent episode all the more jarring.

The gym did not resemble a crime scene, frat house, or the set of any of the Saw movies.  The staff was not rude, egotistical, or unkempt.  The other patrons were not assholes, hateful, or Dennis Rodman (I’ve met him and he is a complete douche).  If you’re a fairly novice “athlete” or potential gym member, these are the things you’re going to notice.  If you are a coach, experienced lifter, or educated in S&C, you’re thinking – “I don’t care if the bathroom is clean, is my training going to improve here?”


Caveat: I don’t’ think that one visit to a gym is enough to write the whole program off.  However, I do think my dad was on to something when he said “You only have one chance to make a first impression”.  Which is why when I initially went to the CFFB Seminar as an attendee in 2009, I made sure to ask no less than 1,000 questions and style my hair differently on both days.  The point is, although you are experiencing a fraction of a given program, certain elements should always exist that indicate that the system is effective as a whole.

We have had a lot of great guests on Power Athlete Radio recently who have all expressed a sentiment of basically growing into your own as a coach.  We have provided countless tools to you, Power Athlete Nation, to empower you to better assess and progress athletes by way of screening movement or becoming a Power Coach.

However, beyond all that are some broad concepts that I’ve come to learn through coaching, leading seminars, and being in countless gyms that tie the entire experience together.  I’m talking about a few aspects of training that are so fundamental that regardless of how far along in your career in S&C you are, you can refer back to periodically to ensure  the “See the forest for the trees” mantra is still active.

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People don’t know what they don’t know.

The people you train do not know what the fuck is going on.  Seriously.  I mean, the vast majority of folks are going to blindly go to battle for you everyday and not question a thing that you make them do.  This includes nonsensical warm ups like the one I did last weekend:

AMRAP – 10 Min
5 burpees
15 situps
20 walking lunges

This is not a joke.

I actually did that as a warm up.  There was no movement prep, no progression to improve anything, and no reason – other than what I assume was to get the heart rate up.  But as I looked around the room, not a single person questioned it.  Why?

Because they don’t know what they don’t know.

Being in a position of power, you can use your authority for good or evil.  It’s not just warm ups that suffer because people are none-the-wiser and don’t know to ask “why”.

Exploitation of patrons’ ignorance and blind loyalty can lead to lazy programming and ineffective use of time.  I see it happen everyday when I peruse websites that contain daily programming created by very capable individuals.  It might even be your blog that I’m stalking.  Do you stand behind each element of your programming?


Progress requires action.

You say you’re in this field to see people improve.  It’s a very altruistic sounding declaration but the fact is, to really see folks progress you have to take action.  We know that the initial honeymoon period of any novice athlete is finite.  When you’re dealing with the rawest of the raw, your initial time with them is more like babysitting.  You watch them like a damn hawk and make sure they don’t get hurt or piss themselves.  The integration of movement into their otherwise sedentary life is more effective in making that initial progress than any “finish the third pull” coaching cue you’ll give them.

It’s after this period that you MUST be as active as they are in the pursuit of progress.  That is code for – Coach!

I don’t care if it’s your first day or you’ve taught every class from 6am to 6pm, you better open your mouth and try and make me better mover.  In my poor experience, I received none, not one, piece of coaching advice.  Not only that, none of the other folks in the class received a single bit of coaching.  If you think I’m exaggerating, call me and I will come to your house, look you in the eyes, and give you my word.  The only two suggestions by the coach were:

“Keep it up!”

“Good work.”

The class was filled with poor movers and it made me sad for them because the tiniest bit of coaching would have at the very least, kept them safe.  My heart hurt to watch people complain of sore backs in a Front Squat SWOD and then see the same people use more weight in a ground to overhead DWOD.  Where was the coaching?  To reference my earlier point – People don’t know what they don’t know.


 Eliminate barriers for success.

Believe it or not, this is not as common sense an idea as you would think.  I’m not talking about assessing an athlete’s limiting factors or necessarily providing full proof programming.  What I’m talking about are the little things inside your four walls that can hinder progress.  This might be the layout, equipment, or safety precautions that are an afterthought to someone who has become complacent in their home gym.

Examples from my recent experience:

-Floors were damp and I slipped multiple times in the warm up.  Luckily I’m like a damn cat but not everyone can embody praxis in their early stages of training.

-No racks. None. Everything was to be pulled from the ground which begs the question (among so many other questions), “Does this gym even back squat, bro?”

-Only Pullup rig was suspended from the ceiling, at one universal height. Meaning shorter people were ALWAYS using a box to step (can of worms as to why this setup sucks).

-Weights were kept in a back closet area.  They were relieved after each set.  Not the end of the world but I can see that structural barrier discouraged many from going up in weight just because it wasn’t readily accessible.

Don’t confuse training in environments that will make you tough and strong with training in environments that are filled with barriers for success.  There is smart and hard and then there is stupid and hard.  You’ve jumped through so many hoops to get to the point of opening your own gym, why discredit all of that work by not ensuring common sense logistics.

Things like layout, equipment, and safety are parts of the overall experience.  If the act of training feels inconvenient or an area is not conducive to getting jacked, people will sense it.  They may not be able to articulate the missing components but they will know something is off and as their training age increases they will grow out of the acceptance phase and into, quite frankly, another gym.


I’ve had numerous great training experiences in random gyms which is why this one stands out in stark contrast.  We take for granted our attention to detail and dedication to making the most of our time with our athletes so much so that we forget there are other facilities out there who are merely phoning it in.

In a weird way, I felt violated but also guilty.  Like I had just voluntarily participated in a strange crime that felt really wrong to no one else but me.  Call it pack or mob mentality, I went along and didn’t rock the boat hoping that somehow, redemption was right around the corner.  It never came.

The only way to redeem this situation is to become hyper aware of those who don’t know what they don’t know.  Those “don’t-ers” are your future “do-ers”; go hards, competitors, maybe even coaches.  Provide them with the overall experience you would want to have yourself, and they will repay you with something more valuable than their monthly dues.    They’ll offer you their loyalty and commitment.


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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. bernie on February 13, 2015 at 3:44 am

    Thumbs up for this article!

  2. DavidMck on February 13, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Third picture down, @cali looks she has her “don’t bullshit me and say what I know you’re about to say” face on.

    • CALI on February 18, 2015 at 11:54 am

      Haha. That is always my natural expression. In reality, I was thinking – holy shit, these translators are jamming up my comedic timing.

  3. Ingo B on February 13, 2015 at 8:17 am

    You forgot the NKOTB shirt.

    1. Ask a 1000+ questions
    2. Change your hairstyle each day
    3. Wear your NKOTB shirt

  4. dtadams0210 on February 13, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Awesome Points.
    One of the greatest lessons I ever learned is that as a leader, your people will only be committed as you are. If you want your athletes to be committed and put out and work on getting better movement, then you have to be twice as committed to helping them so it.

    • CALI on February 18, 2015 at 11:52 am

      Could not have said it better myself. Reminds me of when I first moved to California and was training with the class at Balboa, Ben was coaching. I was a good coach but I did, and do, have a long ways to go. I never had an issue committing to perfect movement but instead, I struggled with little things like coming in from the last run in a workout. In that class, I bent over and put my hands on my knees, wheezing. Ben immediately came over and said “Get your hands off your knees, stand up and set an example.” I got the point. I stood up and started to coach others even though I was still dying. Back to my point – “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”

  5. Nono on February 13, 2015 at 10:02 am

    Thank you so much Cali. I feel comforted after knowing shitty gyms/coaches are not just a spanish problem…

    • CALI on February 18, 2015 at 11:44 am

      Hahaha. Unfortunately not. Mediocrity is an international problem.

  6. Michael Nichol on February 13, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Great article as always! Thanks!

  7. Tony Fu on February 13, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Great article, I’m fairly confident that you’re not talking about my old gym but the similarities are endless. I operate under the premise that eventually people wise up and those that are serious go else where.

    • CALI on February 18, 2015 at 11:42 am

      Well said. You have to hold a standard.

  8. shredalert on February 15, 2015 at 7:55 am

    @cali I dig the honesty in this blog. If you ever grace our gym and IF I’m a complete nerf-herder, you have my permission to go full throttle Pai Mei on me.

    • CALI on February 18, 2015 at 11:24 am

      I know.

  9. Zigg on February 19, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Great article, have you thought about a 2 cents article on how to structure a gym (meaning location of rig/weightstacks to racks distance, etc) that is conducive to weightlifting and powerathlete style training?

  10. dangersilver on February 20, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    “Keep it up!”

    “Good work.”

    I have watched this exact “coaching” scenario play out in various out door groups and gyms countless times. It is absolutely brutal and, unfortunately, rampant. I’ll keep to myself further thoughts on the matter, but I loved the article.

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